First color image of Pluto snapped by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft

It may look a little blurry, but the bright orange-tinted circle in the middle of the photo above is the first color image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

The image was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on April 9 and beamed down to Earth the following day.

According to NASA, the image is a preliminary reconstruction and will be later refined by the New Horizon's science team. Officials say the image was made from a distance of about 71 million miles, which is roughly the distance from the sun to Venus.

New Horizons launched nine years ago to explore now dwarf-planet Pluto and its moons. After a journey stretching 3 billion miles, the space probe woke from hibernation in December to prepare for the final stretch of its trip.

As New Horizons makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, NASA expects the probe to get clearer, more detailed color images showing surface features as close as a few miles across.

"In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto system is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut, and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

During its epic trip, New Horizons has spent two-thirds of the time sleeping, taking a total of 18 naps, which helps NASA preserve the systems on board.
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